Collection: 6. Nirvana - Nevermind

An overnight-success story of the 1990s, Nirvana’s second album and its totemic first single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” shot up from the Northwest underground — the nascent grunge scene in Seattle — to kick Michael Jackson’s Dangerousoff the top of the Billboard charts and blow hair metal off the map. Few albums have had such an overpowering impact on a generation — a nation of teens suddenly turned punk — and such a catastrophic effect on its main creator. The weight of success led already-troubled singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain to take his own life in 1994.

But his slashing riffs, corrosive singing, and deviously oblique writing — rammed home by the Zeppelin-via-Pixies might of bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl — put warrior purity back in rock & roll. Lyrically, Cobain raged in code — shorthand grenades of inner tumult and self-loathing. His genius, though, in songs like “Lithium,” “Breed,” and “Teen Spirit” was the soft-loud tension he created between verse and chorus, restraint and assault. Cobain was a pop lover at heart — and a Beatlemaniac: Nevermind co-producer Butch Vig remembered hearing Cobain play John Lennon’s “Julia” at sessions. Cobain also fought to maintain his underground honor with songs like the scabrous punk purge “Territorial Pissings.”

Ultimately, it was a losing battle, but it is part of this album’s enduring power. Vig recalled when Cobain was forced to overdub the guitar intro to “Teen Spirit” because he couldn’t nail it live with the band: “That pissed him off. He wanted to play [the song] live all the way through.” -

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